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The Latest: 174 New Cases; Court Says Some Felony Defendants Can Seek Release

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Updated: 8/17/2020, 6:06 p.m.

Where we stand

The Hawaii Supreme Court is allowing cerain felony defendants to seek release from Oahu Community Correctional Center as the number of inmates testing positive there reached 181 today.

 

The Department of Public Ssafety said 11 additional OCCC inmates, 1 Women's Community Correctional Center staffer, and 1 Halawa Correctional Facility inmate have tested positive in the latest reported test results.

 

The Halawa inmate was a new intake who was already in quarantine; he was placed in medical isolation. His cellmate tested negative. 

 

OCCC coronavirus cases for inmates and staff now total 211 infections. Mass testing is continuing at the facility and officials expect the numbers to go up. 

 

The Supreme Court justices earlier said pre-trial detainees facing certain misdemeanor and petty misdemeaor charges and those serving sentences for those types of crimes shall be released by Wednesday. Certain conditions would apply: they cannot be COVID-positive, for example, and would need to quarantine for 14 days on release.

 

Today's order makes those facing felony deferrals or felony probation and serving sentences not exceeding 18 months eligible for release. They would need to be processed by a judge, who would decide whether to grant the release.

 

Eligibility for release would not apply to inmates imprisoned for crimes that include sexual assault or attempted sexual assault, burglary and robbery in the first or second degree, or abuse of family or household members.

 

Pre-trial detainees facing felony charges, except for those facing charges that fall in similar categories like sexual assault, would also be eligible for release.

 

Objections to the release of any of the inmates would need to be filed with the court by Wednesday at 4 p.m.

 

 

The Hawaii Department of Health reported 174 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the state's total to 5,215. They include 4,754 on Oahu, 149 on Hawaii Island, 235 in Maui County, and 54 on Kauai. Twenty-three cases were diagnosed out of state. The death toll stands at 40. 

Of the new cases, 163 are on Oahu, 9 in Maui County, and 2 on Hawaii Island. One case from Hawaii Island was removed based on updated information. 

The new count is down from Thursday's record 355 cases, but still in the triple-digits. No deaths were reported yesterday by the state.

As of Aug. 14 based on a 7-day average, the state health department reported the rate of positive tests stood at 6.3%. The World Health Organization says before a region can relax restrictions and begin reopening, it should be at or below 5% for 14 days.

 

Among new cases:

• Nine caregivers at the Queen's Medical Center - Punchbowl have tested positive, the medical center said in a news release today. They are self-quarantining and contact tracing is underway to identify others who may be at risk. The hospital said as the state's largest private employers with more than 7,000 employees, it expected that COVID-19 would be reported in its ranks. Some of those impacted work with COVID patients but the medical center said it does not appear at this time that patients are affected and all of its units are operating. It urged the public to follow guidelines to wear face masks, physically distance and avoid large gatherings, including that of friends and family who may be asymptomatic.

• A Family Court employee at the Honolulu District Court has tested positive for COVID-19, the state judiciary said yesterday. The employee is the fourth case among judiciary employees. Two Oahu Kapolei Family Court employees and a South Kohala District Court worker on Hawaii Island have also tested positive. In the latest case, the worker was last on the job on Thursday and was tested Friday. The positive result was received yesterday. Co-workers who had close and prolonged contact with the. person affected were identifed and directed not to work tomorrow and to contact their. medical providers. The Honolulu District Courthouse will remain open and operations in the affected areas will resume when sanitizing and disinfecting is done. Essential Family Court proceedings in the Honolulu District Court involving defendants held by Honolulu police will be conducted, although court locations may change. Nonessential Family Court hearings may be rescheduled. The latest informatio is available on the judicary's information page.

• YMCA Camp Erdman reported Saturday that a summer camp participant tested positive for COVID-19. The summer day camp was informed Friday. The camp participant was at Camp Erdman from Monday, Aug. 10, through Wednesday, Aug. 12. "We immediately contacted the Department of Health and are awaiting their consult," said Michael Broderick, YMCA of Honolulu president and CEO, in a news release. The YMCA said it is following safety procedures and separating participants who may have been exposed from the rest of the camp. Two staff may also have been exposed. Parents and guardians were notified of the case and informed that the participant traveled on a school bus with others. Families of about 23 of these participants were contacted to pick them up. The camp is being deep cleaned daily and has been cleaned several times since the participant was last at the camp. Friday was the final day of the summer day camp.

• An employee in the city managing director's office has tested positive for the coronavirus and is currently in isolation. The city said in a news release Friday that all workers in the office have been interviewed and none were found to have had significant exposure to the positive employee. No one else is in quarantine. The employee's work area will be cleaned and disinfected, the city said. Honolulu Hale remains closed to the public about a dozen COVID-19 positive cases were found after testing. The state Department of Health said the suspected sources of the cases include a potluck and breaks when workers mingled.

• Kauai's one new case brings the active cases on the island to 7 and the total to 54. Mayor Derek Kawakami said in his video update that the governor has approved his request to require outside gatherings include no more than 25 people, down from 100. Inside gatherings remain at a maximum of 10. 

 

Release of some inmates ordered by Hawaii Supreme Court

The Hawaii Supreme Court last night ordered the release by Wednesday of pre-trial detainees charged with misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors and those serving time for the same crimes. The order comes as the COVID-19 outbreak at Oahu Community Correctional Center grew to 200 and inmates set fires over the weekend that were quickly extinguished, the state said.

The court's order responds to a petition by the state Office of the Public Defender seeking the release of inmates because of the outbreak of coronavirus cases at OCCC. As of yesterday, the cases included 170 inmates and 30 staff who tested positive.

The court had heard arguments on the petition last week and sought more information from the state Department of Public Safety to be filed by noon today.

But last evening, in an order that cites the surge in positive cases, the justices said pre-trial detainees and those serving sentences for misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors shall by released by Wednesday. The state Department of Public Safety said last night that it was evaluating the order and could not say immediately how many inmates may be eligible for release.

Those subject to the release do not include those charged with abuse of family or household members, violation of temporary restraining orders, and violation of a protective order or restraining order or  injunction, the court in limiting the reach of the order.

The inmates released cannot be COVID-positive, the court said, nor awaiting a test result or exhibiting symptoms. Inmates will need to give DPS their current contact information, including their home address and telephone number, if available.

Released inmates will need to self-isolate and wear masks when within 6 feet of others and are required to inform the state Department of Health if they develop symptoms. Pretrial detainees must appear at the Honolulu District Court on Feb. 17, 2021 at 8:30 a.m. unless they are ordered otherwise. The court said failure to follow its instructions could draw more charges, including criminal contempt.

DPS will need to provide a list of inmates to the public defender's office, Honolulu prosecutor, and court administrator by the next day of the individuals' release, the order states.

DPS can still release inmates on its own accord, the court noted. 

In a related development, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety said by email that the stress of overcrowded conditions, the COVID-19 outbreak and late lunch on Saturday prompted disturbances at OCCC this weekend.

On Saturday, a fire was started and quickly put out. Inmates attempted a second blaze, but that was not successful, DPS said. There were no injuries or property damage. 

Yesterday, inmates started a small fire in a housing module, which was also put out by OCCC staff. There was no damage caused by the fire, but two inmates damaged a toilet and lighting fixture. The two were being evaluated for minor injuries. An adult corrections officer also suffered minor eye irritation from fire extinguishing gas. 

Forty inmates were temporarily relocated to a recreation area and the damage assessed and cleaned. The incidents are under investigation and those found culpable will be criminally and administratively charged, the spokeswoman said.

Census outreach may be boosting Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander response rates

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau began following up with households nationwide that have not yet responded to the 2020 Census. This includes nearly 40 percent of Hawai?i households.

But outreach efforts to Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities may have been fruitful – as these groups are seeing some of the highest response rates in recent history.

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations tend to fall into the “hard-to-count” category when it comes to the U.S. Census. But Kuhio Lewis who runs the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement says outreach efforts may be paying off. 

"In key areas where we know there’s higher counts of Native Hawaiian population, they are actually above the statewide average," Lewis said.

Hawai’i is ranked 32nd among all states with a response rate of a little more than 60 percent to the 2020 Census. Lewis says he doesn’t have a complete breakdown of data yet but the latest numbers indicate a higher response in communities with a large concentration of Native Hawaiians.

"You’re talking about Papakolea. You’re talking about Kapolei. You’re talking about Wai’anae, Waimanalo, and even our rural communities on neighbor islands. Some are in the 70th percentile."

The U.S. Census Bureau announced last week that it will end the count a month earlier than previously planned.

"We’re dealing with a pandemic right now where everything is upside down and so to put an added strain on the already challenged operation of making sure everyone is counted is unfortunate. It could have an adverse impact on the count," Lewis said.

That could impact billions of dollars in federal funding that support Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities here in Hawai’i. Individuals have until September 30 to respond to the 2020 U.S. Census online, over the phone or by mail.

--HPR's Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

This is a developing story. Please check back for upates. Editor's note: We’d like to hear how you’re coping with the latest COVID-19 developments and the state's phased reopening. You can call our talkback line at 808-792-8217. Or e-mail us at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.

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